Friday, April 18, 2008

Nuala O'Faolain

She's one of those writers that causes extreme divides among people. You either hate her or love her. I'm the latter. I've devoured everything she's ever written in books and read as many of her columns in the Irish Times as I could get my hands on. I love her style, her intelligence and her heart-breaking honesty.
This was the first book I read of hers:

I loved her honest and heart-wrenching recounting of her sad family history, her well known father who always maintained a mistress, the abandoned alcoholic mother besieged by far too many children

Then I read:

This continued her life into the present times, the dismayed reaction of her family to the truth of her book, the death of two of her brothers from alcoholism and her own discovery of love through a successful online romance with a New Yorker.

Next was this, her first novel:

This followed a favourite theme of my own, a back story and a front story, well written and unputdownable.

Then she tried an experimental book:

This traced the true story of an Irish girl who emigrated to Chicago, intercut and interpersed with her own reflections on what she was writing and the research she had to do. Not to everyone's taste but I really liked it.

And then I hear Marion Finucane of RTE interview her on her Saturday Flesh and Blood series. And it turns out that Nuala has very little time to live, her newly diagnosed cancer has mestastisized from her lungs to her brain and liver. She speaks openly and freely of her cancer, her anger, her sense of being ripped off, her non-belief in an afterlife, her loss of music, reading, and most of all the loss of her joy in nature. She speaks of how utterly alone the process of dying is, no matter who is around you. She spares nothing and cries openly along with Marian.

It is profound, it is shattering, it touched the deepest part of my soul. I wept. For all of us frail humans. For the death that waits around the corner with our ticket out of here clutched in its skeletal fingers. For this incredible, exquisite life with all its joy and pain. For how truly and magnificently precious every moment of it all is.


  1. I've read a couple of her books and enjoyed them. Very sad that she's been struck down like that. Unfortunately death doesn't spare anyone, even the richly talented, the beautiful or the big-hearted.

  2. what? waht? what? she has cancer? oh my god you are devastating me, WWW! i love nuala, and like you i have read all of her books. oh my god i am so sad to hear this.

    i have not yet dared to click on the interview link. but i am crying just reading your post.

    i will never forget the scene in "are you somebody" when she is walking across the burren with her dog on christmas eve....

  3. I wept. For all of us frail humans. For the death that waits around the corner with our ticket out of here clutched in its skeletal fingers

    Shiver! (Beautifully put!)

    I don't read a lot these days, WWW, but my husband loves reading female writers' first novels (don't ask me why - he has foibles!) I shall direct him to this lady's first novel. Thanks.

    So sad that she now suffers. My Mum died from the same type of cancer. Devastating.

  4. Nick:
    As Hemingway put it, we never know for whom the bell tolls. No exemptions but some seem awfully unfair.
    Be prepared it is an incredible and powerful interview and she sounds so frail.
    The painful sad deaths affect us the most. My mother had a dreadful form of cancer too. Nuala's death is a reminder that our choice of nice and peaceful and elderly doesn't happen in most cases.

  5. WWW: i read a transcript on the Irish Times site.

    i will listen to her voice say those words when i get home from work.

    i wish i could tell her how much i loved her books--the way she thinks, her stark and honest and clear-eyed view of life.

    and now of dying.

    oh so sad.

  6. I had never heard of her, being Dutch after all, but now I am very curious, not because she is dying. My own son died of cancer at a young age and it is never good to see a promising human being being taken away from us by it. I must read her books because of your description of them and because of the covers on the books. They appeal to me. They sound like books that will haunt you.

  7. Oh Irene:
    You will so enjoy them, she writes from the heart.
    Glad to see you up and chugging around the blogs again.
    But you changed your name to "bitter sweet". That sums up your recent turmoil.
    Aren't our lives made up of mixed tastes, though? Some awfully sour.
    I'm so sorry about your son, I can't imagine the pain you have suffered.

  8. I just checked the library website and reserved "Are you Somebody" and "My Dream of You." Unfortunately, those were the only two they had. If I end up liking these a lot, I'll have to buy the others. Maybe I can get them used, I hope so!What an exciting prospect, a new writer to me!

  9. I think you'll enjoy her, Irene, she's a great writer on the human condition, damaged and still hopeful.

  10. I loved her honesty. I met her at a book signing and she was so compassionate and in touch with her audience. Her death is the loss of a great soul, a greatly open and compassionate honest woman.

  11. I was devastated to hear of her death earlier. I'm still processing.
    What a special lady, anon, you are lucky to have met her. I never did.


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